Bobbi Gibb Led The Way For Women At The Boston Marathon
It’s been 50 years since the first woman ran the Boston Marathon.
In April 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb rode a bus from San Diego to her parents’ home in Winchester, Massachusetts. It was the day before the Boston Marathon and she told her mom and dad, “I’m running.”
“My father actually thought that I was deranged, that I was delusional,” Gibb recalled. “‘The poor girl, she thinks she’s going to run the marathon.’ He was afraid I would kill myself or hurt myself if I actually tried, cause I hadn’t told them that I was training cause I knew they’d think I was nuts and they’d try to stop me.”
But how her parents felt was the least of Roberta Gibb’s worries. The Amateur Athletic Union regulations, written by men of course, kept women out of races like the Boston Marathon.
“The men who organized the race at Boston were following the national AAU rules, which said women couldn’t run more than 1.5 miles,” explained Amby Burfoot, editor-at-large at Runners World. “They thought they were being wonderfully paternalistic in taking care of the poor little girls and women who needed all the help they could possibly get, so let’s not force them or ask them to do something like run long distances, that would just be wrong.”
“I’ve always loved to run, even when I was little kid,” said Gibb. “I was a toddler and my dad used to take me to a local park and I’d see the green field and I’d just feel full of joy and I’d run across the field – and I just kept running. I ran all through adolescence.”
On Tuesday, April 19, 1966, Gibb’s parents dropped her near the Boston Marathon starting line. She was wearing her brother’s Bermuda shorts and a hoodie to hide her long hair.
She hid in the bushes until the race started, waited a bit for a group of men to pass and then jumped in the pack, worried about how the male runners might respond.
“To my great delight, they said ‘Gee, wow, I wish my girlfriend would run,’ ‘I wish my wife would run,’ and they were friendly and I said ‘I’m afraid they will throw me out if I take the hood off and they see I’m a woman,’ and they said ‘We won’t let them.’ So they were protective too. I felt like they were my brothers and we were all in this together. And there was this incredible mutual respect and friendship.”
Gibb, known by her nickname Bobbi, finished that race in 3 hours and 21 minutes.
“Bobbi broke the tape first and then slowly but surely, steadily more women followed and things kept going and getting better and better and more women,” Burfoot said. “Eventually there was the big movement to finally introduce an Olympic marathon into the 1984 Olympic Games, and so that got pushed through.”
Bobbi Gibb never got to run in the Olympic race she inspired, but she went on to do so much more in her life, working as a lawyer, a neuroscientist and an artist.
And it all started with her father on the green fields of a local park.
“I found in running a kind of freedom,” she said. “I guess I was running away from some of the restraints of our culture. I just never stopped. I just loved it.”
-Alex Ashlock, Here & Now
Top photo by Alex Ashlock. Bottom photo courtesy of Boston Athletic Association.
Kathrine Switzer competed in the Boston Marathon before women were allowed to enter. In 1967, a race official physically tried to remove her from the race, but her boyfriend pushed him down. She was the 1st woman to ever finish the race as a numbered entry. (source)
The city of Boston and the friends and family members of the marathon bombing victims will never forget the day when two explosions ripped through the crowd at the race, killing three people and injuring more than 200. Neither will the family of Sunil Tripathi, but for very different reasons. Their story is told in the documentary film Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi.
Sunil was a gifted student from a high-achieving family. His older sister, Sangeeta, says that growing up, he always surpassed her academically. “[He] did so effortlessly, in just an embarrassing way,” she says. “So I was always very jokingly you know kind of spiteful of the ease with which he could pass through school.”
But in college at Brown University, Sunil began to struggle with depression. In March 2013, he went missing. His family organized a massive search operation, and — somewhat reluctantly — used social media to help with the search. “Despite how uncomfortable it was to take our personal childhood and smatter it across Facebook, we just knew this was what we had to do to get his story out,” says Sangeeta.